By Suzanne Collins
Published by Scholastic
Victorian writer Lewis Carroll certainly started something back in 1865 when he sent Alice plunging down a rabbit hole to discover the whole new fantasy world of Wonderland. Since then writers have struggled to come up with ways of getting their central character from the real world into a realm of fantasy.
Wardrobes, cupboards and cars have all been used as ways of getting characters into other worlds. But American writer Suzanne Collins relies on Carroll's tried-and-tested method to get her young hero into the strange world of Underland in Gregor the Overlander.
Gregor, his mum and baby sister live in a block of flats in New York. Dad went missing more than two years ago, just before baby Boots was born. Gregor is thoughtful boy who looks after his baby sister while Mum is at work.
One day, as Gregor is loading a pile of clothes into a dryer, Boots crawls into an open air vent. A cloud of mist gathers round the toddler, and in a trice, she has vanished. In a total panic, Gregor climbs into the air vent and finds himself falling down a seemingly endless shaft. After an age, he lands on solid ground. He doesn't realise it at first, but he is in Underland, a vast, frightening new world buried under the streets of New York.
Gregor's realisation that he is somewhere very odd is expertly handled by Collins. She builds up the wonder and suspense nicely as Gregor gets the first indication that he is somewhere where he shouldn't be: if he was in his own world, he wouldn't come face-to-face with a giant cockroach that can talk.
Luckily, Boots is there, too, and she isn't fazed at all by the giant insect that befriends them. Things get even stranger when humans arrive on the scene and take the two newcomers to their underground city. This underworld is a place full of flying bats, huge spiders and dreaded oversized rats. The humans have lived there for centuries, and they have a very special reason for welcoming Gregor.
For many years, it has been foreseen that one day an "overland" warrior would come underground to liberate Underlanders from their war against the giant rats. The powers-that-be believe that Gregor is that warrior. The 11-year-old who has just fallen down an airshaft from New York will have his work cut out to live up to expectations.
Gregor the Overlander is a thrill-a-minute fantasy adventure for young teens. Collins has thought up an engaging young hero in Gregor, and the cool combination of sensitive characters, thrills and cliff-hanging suspense is a sure-fire hit read for fantasy readers.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com